Author Topic: PC407: The Cellar Dweller  (Read 5957 times)


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on: March 15, 2016, 08:39:11 PM
PodCastle 407: The Cellar Dweller

by Maria Dahvana Headley

read by Tina Connolly

First appeared in Nightmare Magazine.

Buildings were built, in the beginning, everyone knows, to hold the dead down. Every cellar floor was built over the ceiling of something else. Now cellars are used for all sorts of purposes. Roots. Paint cans. Pantries. Workshops. Other.

There’s a rhyme someone invented for children. It’s chanted in nurseries in the Banisher’s town. The nurseries are upholstered in chintz, and the walls are padded, as though they’re asylums and the babies inmates.

There is an awful thing that lives beneath the cellar floor, little darlings. There is an awful thing that comes up from beneath the cellar floor, up and through the cellar door.

The rhyme’s sometimes sung as a lullaby to pretty little ones, who curl in pretty little chairs, and play with pretty little rolling horses and pretty little rocking dogs. When they nod off to sleep, all’s well and right, but beneath their houses, things are fell and wrong. Things press their noses up through the dirt.

If you wake at night and hear a roar, perhaps you’ve heard the awful thing that roars behind the cellar door.

Rated PG

Maria Dahvana Headley is the New York Times-bestselling author and editor of Magonia, Queen of Kings, The Year of Yes, and with Kat Howard, The End of the Sentence. With Neil Gaiman, she is the editor of the anthology Unnatural Creatures. Aerie, the sequel to Magonia, is upcoming in September from HarperCollins, and in 2017 her Beowulf adaptation, The Mere Wife, will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Her Nebula and Shirley Jackson Award-nominated short fiction has been anthologized in many year’s bests. Her work has been supported by The MacDowell Colony, and Arte Studio Ginestrelle, among others.

Tina Connolly is the author of the Ironskin trilogy from Tor Books, and the Seriously Wicked series, from Tor Teen. Ironskin, her first fantasy novel, was a Nebula finalist. Her stories have appeared in Lightspeed,, Analog, and more, and her first collection is forthcoming from Fairwood Press in August. Her narrations have appeared all over, including Podcastle, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and her Parsec-winning flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake. She lives with her family in Portland, Oregon, and her website is

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!


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Reply #1 on: March 17, 2016, 12:09:56 AM
Tina Connolly nailed the reading of this one. The atmosphere was definitely creepy. A great story.


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Reply #2 on: March 18, 2016, 11:42:21 PM
I was hooked from the beginning with the way the author played with language and rhyme (and the narrator did an amazing job bringing those bits to life), but I'm even more enthralled with that ending. I really didn't call it going in such a dark direction, as much as there were a lot of details that should have tipped me off. I admittedly had a bit of trouble following the time jumps in a few places, but it was well worth the effort.

I love a good dark ending, and this story pulled that off in spades. What's more, it really got me curious about this world. It's rare that a story makes me chomp at the bit to find more works in the same setting, but this one absolutely did.


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Reply #3 on: March 21, 2016, 01:27:09 PM
All of a sudden, I don't feel guilty when I look at pictures of my friends' children on Facebook and think "that is an ugly kid".

The weaving of the two storylines was expertly done. I loved the word play, even if the beauty of the phrase "cellar door" is diminished by the North American hard 'R'. I literally fell asleep last night saying "cellar door" in as many mangled accents as I could manage to see if this was true.

I thought this story had just the right balance of charm and darkness. It was well written, and well narrated. My favorite of 2016 so far.


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Reply #4 on: March 21, 2016, 02:55:40 PM
I really really enjoyed this one.  It hooked me early with the idea that houses were built specifically to pin the dead into the ground.


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Reply #5 on: March 21, 2016, 03:34:03 PM
I felt like this story was a little broad, and didn't reel me in like others have.  It felt nebulous in the way it meandered around.  I kept wondering if I shouldn't just skip this story and go on to something else.

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Reply #6 on: March 23, 2016, 03:39:00 AM
Tina Connolly nailed the reading of this one. The atmosphere was definitely creepy. A great story.

Tina is amazing - if you haven't already discovered Toasted Cake or her other Escape Artist stories (writing AND narrating), you'll enjoy this page:

This Wiki Won't Wrangle Itself!

I finally published my book - Tad's Happy Funtime is on Amazon!


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Reply #7 on: March 23, 2016, 03:05:00 PM
Well this was just tasty from start to finish — from the slow reveal of the protagonist's initial age and nature, through to the final oh-so-lovely-and-dark ending.

"There’re things she’ll never be allowed to have again, but she can live without them." — shiver.

I echo everybody else's positive comments on the narration. Excellent throughout. Especially because I have a terrible mental tick of having to mentally find a tune to match lyrics that appears in the text — which usually rips me away from the story for a while. Having Ms Connolly do all that hard work for me, and pull out the rhythms and repetitions that I often miss on an initial read, made it a really great listening experience.

Thanks to all.


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Reply #8 on: March 27, 2016, 08:21:22 AM
Oooh, haunting and beautiful. The beginning was striking, the development along multiple timelines was intriguing, the protagonist was sympathetic even though unsentimental, the worldbuilding was rich and increasingly chilling, and the use of language, rhyme and repetition was lovely. The narration gave just the right balance between matter-of-factness and stress on key words.
I loved this.


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Reply #9 on: March 30, 2016, 09:15:19 PM
Was this an ouroboros sort of story? Was the Banisher also the little girl she saved? I got that distinct impression since most of the characters were missing names.

All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”


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Reply #10 on: March 31, 2016, 12:42:34 AM
Was this an ouroboros sort of story? Was the Banisher also the little girl she saved? I got that distinct impression since most of the characters were missing names.

I think it's an ecosystem rather than an ouroboros. My take is that
Spoiler (click to show/hide)
...and, well, y'know how that turned out.

Medical Microfiction: Stories About Science


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Reply #11 on: April 01, 2016, 04:28:45 AM
loved this one.  beautifully written and narrated.


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Reply #12 on: April 15, 2016, 02:16:29 AM
This story was so lyrical and beautifully written that I almost want to call it a prose poem instead.

My thanks to Varda, that helped me to put all of the pieces together. When I finished listening, I was put off by how the darkness seemed to be so escalated in the last scene or two and wished they had been left off. Now, I'm not so sure.


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Reply #13 on: April 19, 2016, 05:45:48 PM
I loved this story and of course the narration. One bit bothered me - why did she leave the Nevermore behind for 25 years before finally saving it?


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Reply #14 on: May 02, 2016, 02:55:16 PM
Dark chocolate, dark beer, dark stories.  I enjoyed this, but I might need to hear it again.   I didn't pick up on the Nevermore being the same on both ends of the 25 years. 

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." A.Einstein